Chemical vs physical sunscreen

Chemical vs Physical Sunscreen

Disclaimer : This page contains an affiliate link to products.  We may receive a commission for purchases made through this link.

What is a common misconceptions about sunscreen?


There are a number of misconceptions about sunscreens. The most prevalent one however is how they work.


Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing light. Once the sunscreen maxes out its ability to absorb light the rest flows over to your skin. Imagine this as a cup on your skin. It’s filling with light. Once the cup fills- the rest of the UV overflows to your skin. Have you ever said ‘I literally wore tons of sunscreen and reapplied and still burned!’ This is why! (It is important to note that this is the distinction with physical sunblocks such as zinc or titanium. Physical sunblocks block UV by shielding the skin directly.


The other very important things to note is the listed SPF on the bottle versus the actual effective SPF when the sunscreen is applied. The actual SPF listed on the bottle is the SPF if applied appropriately- generously. If the sunscreen is applied sparingly and not reapplied then the effective SPF- the actual effectiveness of the product can be far less. And, the SPF wears off because the product wears off.

What are your best tips for shopping for sunscreen? 

Look at the ingredients - not the price or name brand. Don’t purchase based on the front of the bottle- look at the back. I ask that my patients really look for Zinc and/or titanium on the active ingredients list. These are physical sunblocks and more effective at blocking UV.

Which ingredients are most effective in sunscreens and which ingredients tend not to be effective?

See above for most effective. Anthelios is another effective and good ingredient seen in some brands.  The most effective option for over 80 % of the body surface area- sun protective clothing.

Aside from sunscreen, what are some other ways people can protect themselves from the sun's rays? 

Sun protective clothing and accessories are key to sun safety. I am completing a study on this over the next 4 weeks. Our preliminary data shows that we can effectively protect over 90% of our body surface area with adaptable sun protective clothing, hats and sunglasses. I have specifically designed my sun protective lifestyle brand to address this concern.


When considering clothing and accessories such as hats and sunglasses it’s important to look for the UV blocking properties and not assume that UV is blocked simply because you wear it. The reality is that the actual UV blocking properties of a white T shirt can be as low as an SPF of 3 and often wears down more through washing and drying. 



Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.